Successful Brand Marketing Through Instagram
Chase Fisher and Blake Jensen were neighbors in their last semester of college in San Diego when they decided to start their own sunglasses company – Blenders. Fisher, a competitive surfer and Jensen, a graphic designer, we were both itching to carve out a lifestyle that matched their passions.
The name “Blenders” was inspired by “Hornblend”, the street they lived on at the time in Pacific Beach. Sunglasses are a key staple on the west coast and at the time, the duo felt like there was nothing on the market that was quality, head turning, and affordable.
As it turned out, many other people across the globe felt the same way. Locals started to ask Jensen and Fisher where they got their neon-toned shades. That’s when they knew they were sitting on a big idea.
What started with two guys sketching on a living room floor, quickly evolved into a thriving company with an effective global supply chain in just two years – largely, thanks to their brand and marketing efforts through Instagram.
We interviewed Blenders Co-Founder Blake Jensen on how Instagram’s platform significantly contributed to the rise of his company.
Q. Did you have any background in online selling or business management prior to Blenders?
“Chase and I had just finished up college when we started Blenders in the Summer of 2011. My background is in Graphic Design and Chase has been involved in the Action Sports industry for a long time. Neither one of us had any ecommerce experience when we started out. Suffice to say, it’s been a steep learning curve.”
Q. Why did you begin selling sunglasses?
“We decided to get into this market because, at the time, there weren’t any options for good quality sunglasses at a reasonable price. Your only choice was between cheap knockoffs from the gas station or $200 luxury brands. It was important to us to design a product that our friends and family were excited about and proud of.”
“Plus, we just wanted to make them cool for the sake of being cool. Selling shades is a lot of fun. The vibrant designs are inspired by the awesome beach culture here in San Diego and that’s reflected in every part of the brand.”
Q. How did you approach manufacturing?
When Blenders officially launched in 2012, Jensen and Fisher borrowed enough cash to make their first 300 pairs of shades. In the beginning, the pouches and packaging were crafted by hand – measured, cut, screen printed, and sewn at their house by the beach.
According to Jensen, every step of the way has been a huge learning process and they figured out most of their beginning strategy by simply Googling ideas and giving it a try.
“It took us about 8 months to secure our first manufacturing partner. Now we have multiple partners in several countries which helps us get great quality at the best price.”
“Today, we sell online through our site and in retail locations across 20 countries including Nordstrom here in the US. The online side has been effective because it’s high leverage and high margin. We can do a lot with a small team.”
“This lets us put more resources back into developing high quality shades. We sell on our own site for the most part. We’ve been on other sites from time to time but we find that driving traffic to our own site is more valuable for many reasons. We have a great network of retail partners here in San Diego and around the world.”
Q. How did you raise funding?
“We basically started out slinging shades out of our backpacks after work and on weekends. Friends and family played a huge roll in supporting us at the outset and continue to do so. After all, who but your family would tell you that starting a sunglasses company is a good idea? We were successful with a crowd funding campaign early that summer, gaining almost 200 backers who believed in us and are still customers to this day.”
Blenders initial funding was a direct result of their efforts through IndieGoGo. “Blenders Eyewear Shades for Scholarships – Summer 2012 Full Color Rollout” raised an estimated $7,095 to support college students and also back their upcoming line of sunglasses featuring 5 new colors.
“From that round of funding we were able to bring out our first line of designs that were picked up in local events and surf shops, plus some key blogs got the ball rolling with sales. Things really took off in the fall when we were featured on two local news stations and nationally on the Today Show and Glamour.”
“Through the first two years, we continued to build Blenders by working late nights and weekends perfecting designs, organizing logistics, and packing orders.”
“As new models rolled off the line, the response from the Blenders community was insane and people helped spread the word through word of mouth and social media. When things reached a tipping point, we made the call to leave our full time jobs ( surf instructor and kayak guide ) and jump into our first office to focus 100% on the Blenders dream. We assembled a small team of college students to join the brand and got down to business.”
Q. What obstacles did you face managing an ecommerce business?
“There’s a million. Managing inventory, team members, strategy, contractors, and everything else is a lot of plates to keep spinning at once. Scaling quickly while still maintaining quality in our process is a big challenge for any growing business.”
Q. Why was your Instagram branding so successful?
With 59.7k followers on Instagram, Blenders is widely known for their successful marketing tactics on Instagram (all with an initial marketing budget of zero).
“We rely on word-of-mouth from people that are stoked on Blenders and want to share it with friends. Social media has been our bread and butter, allowing us to reach audiences globally and share our slice of California lifestyle with like minded folks everywhere.”
“Instagram and Facebook have been huge for us ever since we started. Between those two platforms and email marketing strategies, that accounts for a big chunk of our revenue.”
Blenders was able to gather the attention of 1,000 Facebook fans before they even had a product ready to launch by leveraging Jensen’s photoshop skills to mock up what the product would look like. This was a great way for the upcoming entrepreneurs to “test” the brand reaction and gather input prior to any major sales. When the product did launch – the customer base was already well on it’s way.
In Facebook’s early years – every post was shared with each fan. That algorithm has since been changed. When this happened, Blenders shifted to Instagram as their main source of marketing.
So how was Blenders able to gain so many follows, create a strong customer base at little to no cost?
Blenders was able to leverage Instagram’s market by:
- “Liking” as many followers as they could (with the hope followers would like them back)
- Reaching out to Instagram influencers (ex: photographers) aka users with a significant number of followers
- Sent out free gear in exchange for photos of influencers with their product
- Avoided language barriers by using images to appeal to customers in other countries
In addition to their social media, they continue to market their products through partner blogs and websites, retargeting ads, PPC and trade shows like Magic in Vegas and Surf Expo in Orlando.
Q. Where do you see your company in 5 years?
“Running an ecommerce business is a blast. It really challenges you to be both creative and technical. One part I enjoy is the fast paced nature. You can come up with an idea or strategy, implement it immediately and start seeing results within a matter of hours or minutes.”
“We want to keep building the business and our lifestyle here in San Diego. That means more great products on the way, and a mission to build a fun, challenging, and successful environment for our team.
“I anticipate that social media will continue to be very important for us. Instagram will eventually give us access to advertising on that platform and Facebook isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.”
“We also love when people come into our showroom in La Jolla and say hi in person. As we grow, we continue to enjoy the basics that we’ve been passionate about since day one. Fresh design, pushing the envelope, and exploring the active coastal lifestyle that inspires our work.”